Sixth Grade Integrated NGSS

Weather, Climate and  Change


Identifying air masses.


  • Analyzing air masses.


  • anticyclone
  • cold
  • continental
  • cyclone
  • dry
  • moist
  • polar
  • tropical
  • Balloons
  • Baggies for balloons
  • Sharpies
  • Tornado tubes
  • worksheet
  • United States Placemats/globes

Weather fronts (cartoon)

Play Why Do Tornados Hate America



The type of air mass over an area is dependent on the (1) latitude and (2) whether it is over a continental or marine area. This exercise is just to familiarize students with the different type of air masses that occur over the United States.

You may want to discuss that warm air causes low pressure areas and that cold air causes high pressure areas. Generally a high pressure area moves toward a low pressure area, When the two air masses meet, they will form a FRONT, which will cause weather changes.

Another term for a low pressure center is called a cyclone and for high pressure area it can be called anticyclones. The pressure decreases from the outside toward the center in a cyclone. In an anticyclone the pressure increases from the outside toward the center. Winds blow from high pressure to low pressure and are deflected to the right or left by the earth's rotation. This deflection is similar to the deflection in the oceans. In the Northern Hemisphere the result is that winds blow in and counterclockwise around a low and out and clockwise around a high as shown on the diagram on the right.

Local winds may "adjust" the situation. Local winds may be classified as slope winds, coast winds and mountain winds. Slope winds represent the slow drainage into the valleys of air which have been chilled by contact with the cool ground. Sea breezes are caused by land becoming considerably warmer than the sea. The breeze reaches its maximum strength in the early afternoon and usually persists into the evening before dying away. Mountain winds are caused when a "funnel" is produced by the topography of the mountain sometimes causing a very persistent wind for days.

The underlying cause of winds is the unequal heating of the Earth's surface and the fact that the Earth rotates. But the amount of heat varies considerably, and there are many other factors. This is the reason why weather persons do not have a good record for predicting and forecasting the weather. It’s a hard job!


Last time we talked about air pressure.  Today we are going to talk about why we have differences in air pressure in nature, about large air masses that have the same pressure and humidity and how weather happens at fronts, regions were  air masses of different pressures interact. 

Activity 1:  Wind creation. 


1.     Ask” Is there air pressure all around us?”  Yes (this is review from last time)

2.      Differences in air pressure causes wind.  Wind is caused by air moving from high pressure zone to a low pressure zone.

3.     Show empty balloon.  Is there any air in it?  (not much but some).  Is there any air moving out? (no)

4.     Blow up balloon.  Ask is there any difference in pressure inside the balloon and outside?  (yes, higher pressure air inside balloon). 

5.     Hold on to your balloon but allow air to escape onto something so students can see the effect of the wind.  What is happening?  (High pressure air is moving to low pressure).  Once the pressure is equalized, the “wind” stops.

6.      Students blow up balloon. 

7.     Have them hold the balloon and try to let the air out WITHOUT LETTING GO OF THE BALLOON.  They should try to feel the air move on their other hand.  That is wind.  What is causing it?  Air moving from high pressure to low pressure.  Air always moves from high pressure to low pressure.  Once the pressure is equal the “wind” stops.  If they let the balloon go, the balloon will move “forward” but that is due to the air rushing out in the opposite direction.

8.     They should put their balloon in a baggie with their name on it to take home.  Should give them to the teacher to keep until the end of the day.

ACTIVITY:  Air Masses and weather fronts

1.     So how do we get high and low air pressure in nature (without someone blowing up a giant balloon).   We get differences in pressure due to unequal heating of earth’s surface. 

2.     Watch video about air masses and fronts

3.     Pass out worksheet and placemats. Students should look at the worksheet and determine the type of stable air masses found in North America.

The air masses listed here reflect the average climate.  Notice in the central portion of the United States the air masses are too unstable to generalize.  The answers are: 1.(cA);  2.(mP);  3.(cP);  4.(mP);  5.(mT);  6.(cT); and  7.(mT).

4.     Have the students look at the placemats to see which states are influenced by what kind of air masses.

5.     Ask students about the weather patterns that occurs at the boundaries of the air masses Usually they are very unstable and cause severe weather patterns, except for the hot, dry air masse

Note:  The key objective is for students to see that the atmosphere is very complicated.  The worksheet shows students where stable air masses are located in North America.  Other factors like the Coriolis effect cause movement of the air masses set up air masses that collide, causing fronts.


ACTIVITY: Tornados

1.     Notice on the Air Masses map that there aren’t stable air masses in the center of the country.  Now we are going to look at why tornados develop commonly in this area.

2.     Play Why Do Tornados Hate America?

3.     What are the warm air masses that interact in Tornado Alley (maritime tropical (hot and moist), continental tropical (hot and dry) and continental polar (cold and dry).   Spinning comes from interacting winds plus coriolis effect.

4.     Now get to try out some aspects of tornados. Two water bottles connected by a “tornado tube” connector with water about half way up in one. 

5.     First, just turn the tornado tube upside-down with no circular movement.  What happens?   The water in the upper bottle will not drain due to air pressure in the lower. 

6.     However, if you rotate bottles you can produce a tornado in the upper bottle which moves the water to the exterior and allows the air to come up through the center.  So water can go down and air can come up at the same time.  This action is similar to the action of a real tornado, fast moving air moving up while spinning. 

7.     Let students experiment to see who can get the fastest drainage. 


1.     What did the balloon tell us?  High pressure air moves toward low pressure air creating wind. 

2.     What creates large air masses that with similar characteristics?  Answer:  where they are formed on the globe-- if over water, the mass will be moist (maritime) If over land it will be dry (continental).  If close to equator it will be hot.  If from polar region it will be cold.

3.     The underlying cause of winds and storms is the unequal heating of the Earth's surface and the fact that the Earth rotates. But the amount of heat varies considerably, and there are many other factors. This is the reason why weather persons do not have a good record for predicting and forecasting the weather. It’s a hard job!



No movement, no water drains               With spinning motion get “tornado above and fast drainage.





Return to NGSS Model